Thursday, December 20, 2007

With Fingers Crossed and Eyes Straight Ahead

At the risk of speaking too soon, I think I may be over the health hump and finally on the mend. The ear infection that has vexed me for some time appears to have withdrawn. My other health issues have remained very quiet and I pray nothing happens to change that.

The biggest sacrifice I have had to make during this medical odyssey has been my academic work. I should have been much further along in my studies than I am but it couldn't be avoided. My crafting has also gone by the wayside and I feel bereft without the excitement of creating something new and beautiful.

With a healthier outlook on my life, I am looking forward to a productive new year. I have already taken steps to re-establish myself in New York bomba circle and am planning to return to dance classes in an effort to tone up, increase my stamina and endurance, and perhaps lose some weight in the bargain. I am also looking forward to crafting again. I want to spend more time this year doing the things that bring me joy. In retrospect, the happiest times of my life were those during which I concentrated on doing what I loved. It's been a long time since I've felt that good and this year I want to take some steps in that direction. I want to feel alive again.

Here's to 2008. Bring it on.

Ballo ergo sum,
Always and all ways,
- Gitana, the Creative Diva

Monday, December 3, 2007

Will somebody PLEASE give me a break

After nearly three months of non-stop health issues, I thought I was finally on the mend by Thanksgiving when my doctor gave me the all clear on a nasty infection that had vexed my right ear for a couple of weeks. I had finally begun some preliminary research on my thesis and had attended some social events that put me in direct contact with people associated with my area of interest (Puerto Rican bomba, if you're curious). I was making some (very slow) progress towards creating my thesis proposal for presentation to my advisor. Things seemed to be going well and I thought I was finally going to get my life back on track.

FAT CHANCE. Not one week after I stopped taking the medication for my ear, the infection resurfaced, oozing all manner of pestilence and announcing its presence with a most painful throbbing. Now I'm alternating between two different medications for my ear in the hope that something will work. Enough already! Between doctor visits, housework and family issues, my schoolwork is constantly being placed on the back burner. This time I'm determined to finish this proposal and move forward with my thesis. Otherwise I could still be in school when I'm ready to retire. No way I'm gonna let that happen.

Ballo ergo sum,
Always and All Ways,
Gitana, the Creative Diva

Saturday, October 27, 2007

When will it end...?

My last entry concerned my lingering medical issues and an unfortunate experience with a severe allergy to a medication I had been prescribed. Thankfully I can report that the treatment to counteract the allergic reaction was successful and I am back to normal on several fronts. Unfortunately I'm still not in the pink. My system has been thrown so out of balance that I've had trouble sleeping and am listless. Further, the rainy weather triggers my dysequilibrium so I'm not only feeling crappy, I'm off balance as well. I'm really sick and tired of being sick and tired. It's a depressing state of affairs.

On a brighter note, my son reached a milestone this week when he celebrated his 18th birthday. During the week, I cooked a very special dinner, made apple empanadas (with homegrown apples, of course) and baked a chocolate cake. We also went out to a nice dinner one night at one of our favorite Italian restaurants.

You think your worries are over once your kids reach the age of maturity. That may have been true a generation ago but not so today, at least not in NYC. Life here has become so expensive and competitive that young people can't become independent as easily nowadays. In many cases, their medical insurance converage ends when they turn 18 or 19. Getting a job is harder than it ever was. Kids nowadays can't afford to move out if they want to live in New York. That means they stay at home, continue living pretty much as they always have, but they do it at a much larger scale. I love my kids but quite frankly I look forward to the day that they grow up and leave. Looks like that day is still a long way off, especially since I've still got a child in high school.

In my rich fantasy life, I am an empty-nester, living (finally) in a tidy, well-kept home, tending to my garden, enjoying my crafts and free to get away for a weekend at a moment's notice. In my real life, I'm just a sick and tired woman who is still raising kids for the next umpteen years.

Life just ain't fair.

Ballo ergo sum,
Always and all ways,
- Gitana, the Creative Diva

Saturday, October 20, 2007

I can't make this stuff up...

For two months now, I have been suffering from a laundry list of ills that is becomming more bizarre by the moment. I will try to describe this in as few words as possible.

At the beginning of September, I discovered what I believed to be an abcess on my upper left gum. This diagnosis was confirmed several days later by a dentist who said the problem had to be dealt with by an oral surgeon. In the interim he prescribed an antibiotic to help treat the infection. I made an appointment with the oral surgeon for the following week. The day before the appointment I received a call from the surgeon's office to inform me that the appointment had to be pushed back because of a death in the surgeon's family. I was prescribed more antibiotics to carry me until the following week.

When I finally saw the surgeon, he lanced and drained the abcess and advised me that he would have to perform surgery to get to the root of the problem (literally) and advised another round of antibiotics. The following week, he performed surgery, ordered me to return in a week's time for a follow-up and gave me more antibiotics to prevent re-infection of the surgical site.

If you've been keeping track, this makes four weeks of continual antibiotic use, more than anyone should have to endure. This extended use of drugs created an imbalance in my digestive tract by killing all the beneficial fauna in my intestines, causing chronic diarrhea, intermittent fever and nausea. Here's where it becomes really interesting.

After nearly two weeks of non-stop diarrhea, I saw my private doctor who prescribed a drug to counteract the effects of the antibiotic and restore balance to my system. After taking it for two days, I developed an allergic reaction to the medicine in the form of intense itching, scratching and large blistery hives appearing all over my body. It turns out that I am a member of a very very small group of people who are allergic to this medication (vancomycin, in case you're interested).

Allergic reactions to orally administered vancomycin are very rare, very severe and commonly known as Red Man Syndrome because the skin turns bright red as if it were sunburned. Neither my doctor nor my pharmacist had ever encountered such a case, although they had both heard of it. My doctor said my reaction is so rare, she could write my case up for presentation to the medical community.

Right now I look as if I was attacked by a hive of bees. My eyelids are nearly swollen shut and the blisters across my body are frightful. Thankfully the condition is not permanent, is easily treatable and doesn't leave any lingering ill effects. I have been in constant contact with my doctor who is monitoring me closely. I'm taking Benadryl to counteract the intense itching and redness and have been prescribed a mild steroid to deal with the skin eruptions.

As of this moment, I am truly too grotesque to be seen by others. No, I am not exaggerating here. My son saw me early this morning and the look on his face was one of utter fright. My husband can not believe what he sees. As if my own medical woes aren't enough, during this same two month period, I have had to deal with health issues concerning both my mother and my daughter. Thankfully they have both recovered from their respective issues.

I can only hope that when my particular concerns are resolved, it will be the end of my travails and that I will have no further medical issues in the near future. Keeping fingers and toes crossed here.

Ballo ergo sum,
Always and all ways,
Gitana, the Creative Diva

Sunday, October 7, 2007


Long and eventful is the only way to describe the day I have had today. I don't think there is any way to relate the tale other than to just launch into it.

I awoke after spending three days and nights nursing a low grade fever and an annoying case of diarrhea. I say annoying because it was not in any way debilitating but it kept me tied to the bathroom at least 20 minutes out of every hour. It didn't affect my appetite, just my bowels. I checked my email (between bathroom breaks) and while doing some online research for my thesis I discovered that some friends of mine had made it to the hallowed halls of YouTube and were featured dancing and drumming at the 2nd BiAnnual Bomba Research Conference in Chicago that took place Labor Day weekend. I had wanted to go but couldn't afford it and now I'm envious. Well, at least I've got some suitable candidates for my research interviews.

As if I have nothing else to do, I decided to create another blog. As I have mentioned in previous postings, I am an artistic creature whose creativity takes many different forms. I am currently designing specialty note cards and greeting cards and have successfully completed my first custom order. My new blog, called The Creative Diva, will be dedicated to my artistic endeavors and the creative process. As soon as I have it more fleshed out, I will provide a link on this page for easy access.

Later in the day, my gastric distress had abated somewhat so I spent the afternoon in the backyard with my husband picking apples. He was unusually industrious today (a fact that he will surely not let me forget until this time next year), and he decided he wanted to tackle our huge apple tree and bring down some of the beauties growing in the upper branches. This adventure ended with one pair of shorts split down the back seam (his) and one crate full of over 120 apples weighing just over 50 pounds. I don't have to tell you that I immediately started peeling apples for a pie and calling family and friends to come and take some. Between peeling apples, cooking dinner and stewing beans for future meals, I spent 5 hours in the kitchen, darting back and forth from the television during commercial breaks once my Sunday night lineup began. Those of you who watch Sunday night TV know what I mean.

Then came the capstone. My husband, who for some reason forgot he had had dinner, made a comment about wanting to eat. I immediately countered by telling him to put on his shoes and take a walk with me. (For those of you unfamiliar with this scenario, read my August posting entitled "Of Ice Cream and Summer Walks".) After an initial reaction of horror, he decided ice cream might not be a bad idea after all so we all decided to hit our local "Taste the Tropics", an ice cream parlor that serves all manner of creamy delights in authentic tropical flavors. As the hour was late, we abandoned the television and bolted for the car in the hope of catching the place while it was still open. As we rolled up to the store, an employee was locking the door from the inside but the inner lights were still on. We honked the horn to get his attention and I made pleading gestures from my window. The employee rolled his eyes and signalled us to enter. We cheered, piled out of the car and into the store, as gleeful as kids scoring forbidden treasure. This entire chain of events, from concept to storefront, took only 10 minutes. Amazing how motivating a sweet treat can be.

Later, as we slowly drove home contentedly licking our confections, I couldn't help thinking how happy we all felt and how this one simple, spontaneous act of caprice will probably be something we would remember fondly for many, many years. It was a great ending to a pretty darned good day, gastric issues notwithstanding.

Like I said once before, sometimes ya just gotta MAKE your moments.

Ballo ergo sum,
Always and All Ways,
- Gitana, the Creative Diva

Friday, September 28, 2007

Cause for Concern

I admit it...I'm somewhat spoiled when it comes to the health of my children. Outside of the usual childhood ailments and occassional bouts of winter-induced asthma, my kids are as healthy as can be. Having suffered most of my childhood from one ailment or another (some serious), I was always concerned that my progeny would inherit the weaknesses of my youth. This is not the case, so as I said, where their health is concerned, I've been somewhat spoiled.

My idyll was shattered this week when my youngest, who had complained of a mild sore throat for some time, called from school to say her throat was very sore and her ear hurt when she swallowed. A throat culture at the doctor's office the next day came back negative for strep. A diagnosis was offered that the sore throat was probably brought on by seasonal allergies, with medications for same duly prescribed.

Here's where it gets ugly. Not only did my daughter not respond to the medication, her condition dramatically worsened in the next 12 hours. Her throat was raw and every swallow brought a stab of pain that brought tears to her eyes. She couldn't talk, couldn't eat, couldn't sleep from the pain. All she could do was roll herself into a ball and whimper like a frightened pup. Nothing unglues a parent like watching helplessly as their children suffer. Having basked luxuriously in the glow of healthy children for 27 years, this came as a nasty shock and I was frantic.

Another round of telephone calls had me running to a lab for a series of blood work. The preliminary results came back within a matter of hours, indicating an elevated white blood cell count, indicative of infection. Another prescription for an antibiotic to address this new information. Several more hours of watching helplessly as my child writhed and cried out in pain, hoping and praying that, this time, the medication would work.

Nothing commands your all-consuming focus like bringing your child through a rough illness. Nothing, I repeat, NOTHING is as important as that child's comfort and well-being. I went nowhere, I spoke to no one, I did no housework, no school work, nothing but dispense medication, record body temperature, monitor any improvements in her condition and sit by my child to comfort her. This is what she needed. This is what she wanted. This is what she got. End of story - no questions asked. As we say in Spanish, punto y fin.

Thankfully, she turned a corner within 24 hours of taking the antibiotic and was feeling well enough to eat, something she hadn't done for most of the previous 48 hours because of the intense pain in her throat and ear. She now appears to be heading for a new Guiness Record in the eating binge category. I never thought I would be grateful to hear her squabbling with her brother over rights to the television remote control or watch her playing on the computer. It's those little things that say life is back to normal.

Of the blessings I've been granted in this life, healthy kids tops the list. This reality check did not go unnoticed. Thank you, God. I hear you loud and clear.

Ballo ergo sum,
Always and All Ways,
- Gitana, the Creative Diva

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Mission Accomplished

In an earlier post, I talked about my excitement over having landed my first custom order client for my nascent handmade greeting cards business. Let's call that the honeymoon phase. Everyone knows what comes after the honeymoon...real life. Having been paid in full, I now had to deliver the goods. Simple, I thought, until I actually sat down to do it. That's when real life reared its head. Why is it that things take so much longer to do than you think they will? And why is it that the materials that were once so plentiful seem to mysteriously dry up at the most inopportune moment? And why...oh yeah, I forgot about Murphy's Law. Who the heck is Murphy and who made him a legislator anyway?

When I entered the world of small business, I found out the hard way that stuff happens precisely when you don't want it to and you have no choice but to figure it out on the fly. I discovered that my particular shade of gold cardstock was nowhere to be found but in a small variety package with several other colors. In order to purchase enough to complete the project, I would have to buy six or seven packages. And to top it off, the client wanted matching envelopes. But wait... I found a supplier with a million colors of cardstock who is sure to have my shade of gold and there's a two day turnaround time on orders. Great...except the catalog with the color chips from which I must order takes nearly two weeks to arrive. And NO, they DON'T have matching envelopes. Then the printer runs out of ink in the middle of running the graphic motif for the order. And I couldn't find a supplier for the gold-edged paper I use inside the cards...and on and on. What began as a pleasant diversion turned into an onerous task.

Among the changes I had to make in order to complete the order were: choose a similar color cardstock with matching envelopes, develop a relationship with a printer to cut and score cardstock for me to free me from doing it by hand, juggle print cartridges between two printers until replacements arrived, and cut paper and apply gold leaf paint to the edges by hand. Now add to this scenario "drop everything at a moment's notice to deal with family issues" and you get an idea of the juggling act I had to pull. Oh yeah, did I mention I'm also a graduate student?

In spite of the hurdles, I successfully completed and delivered my first order a few days ago and it was a great feeling. I learned a lot in the process and realize I still have much to learn. If nothing else, I learned that when the next set of hurdles comes my way, I'd better have my track shoes on because I plan to stay in this race.

Here's a picture of the final card.

Ballo ergo sum,
Always and all ways,
- Gitana, the Creative Diva

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

The First Signs of Autumn

Labor Day weekend was remarkable for two reasons: 1) It was quiet. My usually festive and very LOUD Caribbean neighbors were NOT having a party or a barbecue so there was none of the requisite soca, reggae and house music blasting at triple digit decibel levels, and 2) I picked the first apples of the season from my tree. This crop ripened a little earlier than in previous years and a bountiful crop it is.

My apples are organic. While in some circles that means wholesome, natural and without chemical pesticides, in my backyard, more often than not, that translates into insect-ridden and bird-pecked. The tree is just too darned big to be effectively sprayed against insect pests. As for the birds, you can see from my photos that I have a healthy parrot population enjoying the literal fruits of my labor. Between the bugs and the birds, I lose more apples than I'm able to harvest. Nevertheless I love my apple tree.

In spite of the rather large losses I incur every apple season, I manage to save enough to merit a decent pie or two and more than a few apple empanadas (apples in a dough crust, deep-fried, glazed, then dusted with confectioner's sugar. YUM!). This year's batch even yielded some that were good enough to eat out of hand. Although I wait patiently all summer for this moment to arrive, I greet it with a melancholy grin and a small sigh of resignation. Ripe apples are the harbingers of autumn and are as sure a sign of summer's end as the waning daylight. It's downhill to the holidays from here, which seem to come earlier and earlier each year, thanks to guerilla marketing tactics.

I can't stop the relentless march of the seasons but facing it becomes a whole lot easier with a slice of hot apple pie.

Ballo ergo sum,
Always and All Ways,
- Gitana

Friday, August 31, 2007

Swimming in a Bigger Pond

My son would probably feel quite at home among Peter Pan's Lost Boys, playing games all day and never growing up. He graduated from high school in June and, not wanting to leave the nest, had applied to and been accepted into a local college. As the summer waned and the day of registration grew ever closer, he whined, "I don't want to go to college. I want to go back to high school", in a comical voice that only thinly veiled his very real fear of venturing beyond the sheltered world in which he had been nurtured. When it became obvious that, like it or not, he was going to have to step out of his comfort zone, his fear manifested itself as all manner of disagreeable behavior. He becomes quite obnoxious when faced with something he doesn't know and can't control. No attempts to convince him that he would manage just fine sufficed.

After dinner on the evening of my son's first day in college, my husband took out a bottle of champagne and offered a toast to his success. Fast forward to today. My son has met all his professors, purchased his books and gotten more than his feet wet. He's been given homework assignments and is becoming familiar with the anomaly known as academic scheduling. More importantly, he has begun to notice the subtle and not-so-subtle differences between high school and college and seems to be enjoying the experience, for which I am eternally grateful.

Today marks the end of my son's first week in college and I celebrate it as a battle won. I look forward to the bottle of champagne we will open on the day he graduates. In the meantime, I will quietly celebrate the victory of successfully launching my child into college in spite of his resistance and inwardly bemoan the loss of my little boy to the man he is fast becoming.

Ballo ergo sum,
Always and all ways,
- Gitana

Monday, August 20, 2007

Woo Hoo!!

For several months now, I've been creating handmade note cards for the purpose of channeling my artistic talents and making a few bucks on the side. Some weeks ago, I was asked by my accountant if I would design an invitation for her annual client appreciation event taking place in December. After weeks of designing, redesigning, tweaking and angst, I finally presented her with two totally different invitations, knowing that one was sure to strike her fancy. The short story: she was thrilled by one of the designs and I have made my first sale. I have been paid in full and now it is on to the production stage. With fingers and toes crossed, I press on.

You can see the chosen card above. Go to my Photobucket to see more of my greeting card work. Use the link at the top of the right hand column.

Ballo ergo sum,
Always and all ways,
- Gitana

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Of Ice Cream and Summer Walks

A friend of mine recently emailed me one of those messages intended to be forwarded to everyone you care about. I usually read and delete these emails because I frankly can't be bothered forwarding the multitude of emails of this nature that I receive. This message, however, struck a chord with me. For the sake of brevity, I will only include the first and last paragraphs of the original email. This will be sufficient.

Too many people put off something that brings them joy just because they haven't thought about it, don't have it on their schedule, didn't know it was coming or are too rigid to depart from their routine.

When you worry and hurry through your day, it is like an unopened gift...Thrown away.... Life is not a race. Take it slower. Hear the music before the song is over.

How appropriate. I do make the time to enjoy life whenever possible. Life, however, doesn't always want to cooperate.

Take the other night for example. My husband and I were alone in the house and I told him to put on his shoes and walk with me. He looked at me as if I had just stepped off the mother ship from Mars.

"Walk?", he says. "Where to?"
I said, "To Utica Avenue."
"To get some ice cream."
"But we have ice cream in the freezer."
"Then we'll get some italian ices."
"You wanna walk?"
"Yes. You know, walk, as in put one foot in front of the over and move from point A to point B. You walk to the bus every day, don't you?"
"Yeah, but that's only on the corner."
"Then you can use the exercise."
"But I'm constantly climbing up and down stairs at work and..."

Well, he went on and on, trying to convince me to either stay home and eat ice cream or take the car to Utica Avenue which, by the way, is only about five blocks away from us. I would have none of it. I said I wanted to take a walk on a beautiful summer night with my husband and asked if he had a problem with it. That seemed to shut him up and he grudingly walked with me. You would have thought we were climbing Mt. Fuji the way he was snivelling. Finally, after all that haranguing to convince him to go with me, we get to Ices Queen only to find that the freezers were malfunctioning and all the goods were slushy.

I wouldn't be deterred. We kept on walking until we got to the local bodega and there I bought us some Haagen Dazs ice cream bars. (For those of you who don't know what a bodega is, think of it as a neighborhood grocery store with a spanish accent.) We walked back home, eating ice cream and enjoying the night air in spite of the Universe's attempts to rain on my parade. Sometimes ya just gotta MAKE your moments where you can.

Ballo ergo sum
Always and All Ways,
- Gitana

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Mini Garden Update

In the spring, I posted photos of my apple tree in bloom. Today I photographed the same tree bearing more apples than I have seen in years. There was an added bonus this monk parrots. They come almost every day this time of year to feast on the most delectable fruits found at the top of the tree. I managed to photograph some of them as they nibbled away at my fruit. Visit my Photobucket album to see the pictures. Link is located at the top of the right hand column.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

The Zen of Gardening

Today was one of those days in which I hit the ground running. Seems from the moment I woke up, I started working. What began as a simple intention to water the garden quickly turned into a two hour project in which I pulled weeds, uprooted and transplanted flowers, and generally got pretty dirty pretty quickly. If you've never done yard work, and I'm talking about the kind that requires moving quantities of dirt around, then you really can't appreciate how much energy and muscle that kind of work requires. It's brutal, especially when you're doing it under the summer sun.

In spite of its rigors, I find gardening to be a very rewarding experience. It allows me to think but, more importantly, it allows me NOT to think. It allows me to focus on the task at hand and not think about the many issues of life that must be dealt with. This is my form of meditation. Most people who meditate do so purposefully while in a consciously relaxed state. I, on the other hand, tend to meditate best when I am actively engaged in a creative activity that requires me to focus on details. In doing so, it quiets the mental chatter on the analytical left side of my brain and allows my creative right brain to roam freely.

Take gardening, for example. I must focus as I am digging and tilling so as not to damage my plants, then squat down and meticulously pick out weeds from the freshly tilled soil. While doing this, I notice the pill bugs, the earthworms, the newly formed buds on the flowers, the variety of insects buzzing around and pollinating the mature blooms. I take in all the little details that most people pay no attention to and marvel at their perfect synchronicity to the rhythms of nature. More often than not, while I'm focusing in this manner, something amazing occurs. The resolution to a issue I had been pondering some time before suddenly appears in my head. Never mind that I hadn't been consciously thinking about the issue or that it may be totally unrelated to what I am doing at the time. Suddenly there it is, presented with a totally fresh perspective. These insights occur with great frequency and I am convinced it is not a random phenomenon.

Gardening has other rewards as well. In addition to the beautiful blooms and delicious crops, it requires you to be outdoors where you are in closer proximity to nature's wildlife. If you're lucky, you can witness a brief visit by a beautiful winged traveller as it passes through the area. This morning was such a day and I was twice blessed, seeing a monarch butterfly in my front garden and a black dragonfly in my backyard. In both cases, these beautiful creatures circled around in front of me as if trying to catch my attention before disappearing again. In animal symbolism, the butterfly is a symbol of transformation. The dragonfly brings the vision of ancient knowledge and allows us to see past self-imposed illusions. I see them both as portents of a challenging and bright future.

Friday, July 13, 2007

What to do when you don't know what to do.

These days it seems that everyone in my family is on edge, angry and in some sort of emotional pain. My 17 year old son is going through his angry young man phase with a vengeance, exhibiting his displeasure at anything that is not to his liking in the most disagreeable ways. My husband has withdrawn himself even more from interacting with the rest of the family, preferring to sit in front of the television set, remote in one hand, beer in the other, expecting the household to run on automatic pilot. My 14 year old daughter, who bears the brunt of her brother's ire, is angry and frustrated and wants nothing more than to hurry through high school so she can escape to college. And I... well, let's say that these days my thoughts have been turning to finding a job and renting a spacious one bedroom apartment. Notice I said ONE bedroom, as in just for me.

I have reached an age when I thought life would be getting a little easier to manage. On the contrary, it has become more difficult. There is no consensus or cooperation on even the most minute of things and I've reached the end of my rope trying to keep it all together. There are no words to describe my feelings of anger, hurt, and frustration. I've had it. I'm through.

So now what?


I had to reach the depths of frustration and despair before I realized there was really nothing I could do to change the members of my family. The only person I have the power to change is myself. All I can do is be who I am and allow them to be who they are. I have to let go and stop trying to control and micromanage every action, and I have to stop allowing their actions to micromanage me. I have to determine what I may be doing to feed into the current situation and then stop feeding it by doing the opposite. I have to relinquish control because, in truth, I have no control. I have only the illusion that I have control.

This is possibly the most difficult thing I have ever had to do. I can only hope that my letting go will cause a change in the family dynamic such that it will balance itself out and create a more harmonious energetic flow. I know that this change, like any other change, will not come easily or without resistance. I just have to let go and allow myself to freefall.

I hope there's a net when I reach the bottom.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Serena's Legacy

Serena Wilson, a grand dame in the world of Middle Eastern dance, passed away Sunday June 17, 2007. (See my earlier post entitled The Irony of Life). Visit to see clips of Serena dancing during her heyday and to read dedications by many of her adoring students.

Ballo ergo sum
Always and All Ways,
- Gitana

Monday, June 18, 2007

The Irony of Life

It has been many years since I left the world of nightclub entertainment behind, and since then I have not bellydanced for anything other than my own enjoyment. There were several reasons for that, none the least of which was America's disdain for all things Middle Eastern in the wake of 9-11. Also I had grown tired of some of the games people in the business played. Dancing has always been a medium of joyful expression for me and is something I do because I have a passion for it. Dealing with mundane pettiness, ignorance and backstabbing was, to say the least, a buzz kill.

Yet in recent months I have noticed a recurring bellydance theme emerging. In my efforts to rehabilitate after a debilitating condition that severely affected my balance, I began dancing around the house and my music of choice was the Arabic music to which I danced when I was doing the nightclub and private party circuit. I find myself gravitating towards clothing and jewelry that evokes that sensual goddess feeling in me. People have been asking me if I would teach them to bellydance. And I recently reconnected with one of my old dance partners, Layla, after being out of touch with her for years. Apparently my inner gypsi is re-awakening.

My youngest daughter happened to casually ask me last week about my former bellydance teacher, Serena Wilson, ( specifically to ask if she was still alive. I found this rather odd because my daughter has never met Serena and knows of her only by the stories I told. I assured her that the day Serena passed, I and the whole bellydance world would hear of it. How ironic is it then that Layla should send me an email to tell me that Serena had collapsed and died without regaining consciousness.

Serena was an iconic figure in the Middle Eastern dance world and made her living as a performer and an educator in this most sensuous of dance forms. She was recognized as an exciting performer with incredible technique and for producing professional dancers who could be readily identified as "Serena dancers" by their skill in execution and their interpretation of the music, trademarks of her technique. She was a savvy business woman who managed to survive all the ups and downs of show business in New York City. And like every successful business person, she made enemies along the way. Yet in spite of her detractors, she remained a strong presence in the world of bellydance, both here in the United States and in Egypt where she had cultivated many friends and business alliances.

I have no doubt that the news of Serena's passing will be heard by every Middle Eastern dancer across the country and that her funeral procession will be one that Serena herself would have liked to have staged... full of color, glitter, sequins and veils. I plan to be there, wearing bugle beads and sequins and paying my respects to the woman who gave me my start in the business and helped release my inner gypsi.

Ballo ergo sum,
Always and all ways,
- Gitana

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The relentless passage of time

A week ago a milestone was reached in my household when my 17 year old son attended his senior prom. The months of anticipation, preparation and agitation finally came to head when I drove him to the place where the limousine would make the first of several pickups on the way to the banquet hall. Seeing my son in his tailored suit, surrounded by a bevy of beautiful young women, I acutely realized the passage of time. No longer was he the cute, chubby toddler with the devilish eyes and the dimpled chin. Now he is a handsome young man with a nascent beard on his chin, still sporting those beautiful devilish eyes. You can see pictures of him in my Photobucket album. Just click on the link in the box at the top of the right hand column.

His graduation ceremony at the end of June will officially mark his transition out of the ranks of childhood. That countdown began when he stepped into that limousine and said to me, "I'll call you" as the door closed and the car pulled away. Yes, he did call me that night, several times, in fact. When he came home at dawn, tired and grinning, I knew there was no turning back. In a very short time the transformation will be complete.

As a mother, I've always considered it my responsibility and my privilege to try and prepare my children for this transition. I've done my best to teach my kids what they need to know in order to navigate this sometimes scary world in a safe and sane manner without me there to guide them. But there is something in the process that I was not aware of, something that totally blindsided me and caught me off guard. While I was preparing them for life without me, nobody was preparing me for life without them.

I still have one more to go. She will be graduating high school in another three years. Surely I will have prepared myself for the adjustment by then. I can only hope.

Ballo ergo sum,
Always and all ways,
- Gitana

Thursday, May 31, 2007

My Photobucket

I have created an online photo album at There you can see examples of the greeting cards I have created recently, as well as photos of other things that are important to me. I expect to be creating more sub-albums and adding more photos in the future so please bookmark the site and visit from time to time. The link is Thank you.

Ballo ergo sum,
Always and all ways,

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Nightmare - Revisited

My daughter just called me on her way to school. Who should she happen to be on the train with but the young lady whose mother called looking for her a couple of nights ago. I didn't get a lot of details since extracting credible information out of a teenager is a little like trying to get Bush to pull out of the Iraq war, but I did glean a few tidbits.

Essentially this young lady says she got out late from the bookstore and was unable to call home since she had forgotten her cell phone. Furthermore she apparently did not have change to call from a public phone (do those things still exist?). Upon hearing this, I started asking my daughter some questions. She asked if I wanted to speak to the girl myself. I declined, deciding that interrogating this child would be inappropriate of me and was the responsibility of her parents.

I was very upset and annoyed. How flimsy can an excuse get? I don't believe that a) she was at a bookstore that late, b) she accidentally left her phone at home or c) she didn't have change for a phone call. I think d)she was messing around and deliberately didn't want anyone to be able to contact her. When I think of the anguish that her family must have gone through, not knowing the whereabouts or well-being of their child, I become all the more infuriated at her behavior. Yes, I know... I'm projecting my own fears. But that's what we parents do when we don't know what else to do.

The happy ending is that the girl is fine and safely back at home with her family. I am glad for that, at least, but my gladness is tempered by the knowledge of the panic her disappearance caused. Hopefully she got an earful from her mother. Hopefully her mother can see the red flag waving.

Ballo ergo sum,

Monday, May 14, 2007

A Parent's Worst Nightmare

I received a call at 11:00 PM tonight. Everyone who knows me knows I'm one of those people who doesn't like receiving phone calls after 9:30 in the evening so when the phone rings at that late hour, it had better be important. It was. The caller was the mother of one of my daughter's high school classmates and she wanted to speak to my daughter. Every mother knows that if you receive a late night phone call concerning your child's classmate, something is wrong. I let my daughter speak with her in the hope that perhaps she had some information that might prove helpful.

Apparently the young lady had stepped out of the house after returning from school and had not returned. To make matters worse, she had left her cell phone behind so there was no way to reach her. I didn't speak to the mother much myself but I didn't have to. Nothings grips your heart and feeds the worst nightmares you can imagine than not knowing if your child may have come to some harm. I knew exactly what this woman was feeling. I felt it as acutely as if the child had been my own.

The thought crossed my mind, "There but for the grace of God go I". I looked at my child and said a silent thank you that she was safe at home with me, secretly grateful that she was still around to vex me with her teenage attitudes and outrage. Since receiving that phone call, I have been inwardly agonizing over this missing child whom I don't even know, praying that she will return safe and sound. Needless to say there will be two mothers who won't get much sleep tonight; the one who called my home and the one who answered the call.

Ballo ergo sum,

Friday, May 4, 2007

In the season of the sun...

Spring has finally arrived and my garden rejoices in its company. For many years I have been an avid gardener and am proud to say my whole family has reaped the benefits of my labors. In addition to the beautiful perennials that return each year, we have had the pleasure of eating fresh fruit and vegetables right out of the garden. Few things are as fullfiling as eating a freshly picked peach, picking a salad straight from the yard to the dinner table, or inhaling the aroma of an apple pie made with apples picked from my own tree.

This year promises to be a little different. The perennials that have peacefully coexisted for several years have outgrown their boundaries. They have flourished and multiplied to the point where my garden has become the floral corollary of a housing project... too many tenants and not enough room. The irises are encroaching on the Stella D'Oro daylilies, the Rudbeckias (Black-eyed Susans to you) are slowly closing in on the tulips, and the hostas... well, let's just say that in sociological parlance, the hostas would be considered the dominant culture. They are everywhere. Over the years, they have grown from five little fingerlings to over 50 mature plants, the smallest of which is about 30 - 36 inches in diameter when fully opened. My garden looks more like an angry jungle. It is time to thin out the herd.

Getting rid of a plant that you have nurtured from a rootling is something akin to kicking your child out into the world. It's not the easiest thing to do but you know it is in everyone's best interest. I wanted to donate my plants to an organization that would place them where others would be able to view and enjoy their beauty. I am fortunately connected with and live very close to Brooklyn College, known across the country as one of the most beautiful campuses in America, thanks to dedication of its talented ground crew. It takes a lot of time, money and effort to keep that campus looking beautiful and the current budgetary constraints don't make it any easier. A few emails later, the prinicpal park supervisor for the campus, Steve A., came by with a truck and picked up 20 of my over-eager hostas. He already has a spot waiting to receive the plants... none other than the famous Lily Pond, one of the most tranquil, beautiful and most photographed places on the campus. I'm thrilled that my plants will be on view in such a place of honor, just in time for this year's commencement exercises.

In addition, one of my children attends the Green School, a new high school dedicated to environmental studies and ecological sustainability. The school is in the process of upgrading their (for the most part non-existent) landscaping and is in need of hardy perennials. Once again, my garden will come to the rescue, providing irises, daylilies, rudbeckias and, of course, hostas. If I'm in a good mood, I may throw in a few dozen daffodils. I've got over a hundred of them.

In this manner, I am sharing the beauty of my garden with the public at large. I am also giving my garden some much needed breathing room. Once I have thinned out my plants to the point where I can actually see the dirt they are planted in, perhaps I'll put in some new and different varieties. Then, when they outgrow their space, I will start the process all over again and share nature's wealth.

Ballo ergo sum
Always and all ways,

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Feeding the Creative Beast

In an earlier post, I told you about FreeCycle and how its members freely give away items they no longer need to others who may have need of them. I can't tell you how many items I have been able to acquire for my children, my parents and myself and the many more that I have been able to give away. This weekend my daughter and I were treated to an unexpected benefit of the generosity of my fellow Freecyclers.

I design greeting cards and gift boxes. I recently posted a request for rubberstamping supplies so I could explore this decorative medium without investing a lot of money up front. In response to my request, I was contacted by a lovely woman named Frances who not only generously offered to give me some supplies, she offered to teach me how to use them. She proposed a "play date" where we would meet, chat and stamp. Apparently she has been an avid stamper for some years now and is experienced in a variety of techniques. She and her sister Toby, another avid stamper, are members of online crafters groups, attend craft shows and regularly get together with others for rubber stamping "play dates". Essentially she had volunteered to become my mentor. The best part was that Frances lives five minutes away from me in the neighborhood where I grew up. How easy can it get?

My teenage daughter and I met Frances and Toby at Frances' house where there was an overwhelming array of crafting and rubber stamping tools, supplies and other paraphernalia as far as the eye could see. A short time later we were joined by another crafting friend, Linda, who brought a stash of her own favorite tools and stamps. From that point on, time flew by. For six hours we talked, we joked and we got to know one another, but most of all we stamped. It was evident that these women genuinely loved what they were doing and were having a ball passing that love on to others. I learned so much in that short time that I will be inspired for months to come. My daughter in particular really enjoyed herself. I know she's well on her way to being hooked on crafting. We all had a great time.

Later in the evening, Frances called me at home. She said, "I just wanted to tell you that you're the best thing I've ever gotten from FreeCycle."

Now I ask you... how great is that?

Ballo ergo sum
Always and All Ways,
- Gitana

Friday, March 9, 2007

MTA NYC Lost and Found (212-712-4500 or 4501)

I had the misfortune to have lost something on the train this week. It was a set of x-rays - of great value to me but totally useless to anyone else. It was in the process of trying to recover these films that I ran into the MTA chasm they call the Lost and Found. I write this to warn others what to expect if they should have to run that ghastly gauntlet.

The system works like this: Any items that are found on the transit system (both bus and subway) are picked up in a sweep and taken to the central lost and found office where they are logged into a computer database. Because of the sheer size of the system, this process takes up to one week. This means you have to wait seven days before you can make an inquiry about your lost item assuming, of course, that you can get through on the constantly busy telephone. The hours of inquiry are limited: 8 AM to 12 noon on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday, 11 AM to 6:30 PM on Thursday. The ever-so-helpful person who answers the phone gives out only as much information as you ask for and not a smidgeon more. No information will be volunteered. When I dared to ask for this individual's name, the chilly reply was, "Clerk #4". That was as friendly as the conversation got.

IF you are fortunate enough that 1) your item was found and returned to an MTA employee, 2) wasn't lost in the system sweep, 3) survived the one week ordeal before arriving at the central location, 4) was logged into the database, and 5) you actually get through on the telephone, you can claim and retrieve your item. At that time you will be given the location of the central office. In theory, at least, that is what should happen. I'll just wait and see how it pans out for me but I don't hold out too much hope.

For those of you who may have need of it, here is the telephone number: 212-712-4500 or -4501. Hours of inquiry are listed in the second paragraph above. If you find yourself in the same gloomy predicament as myself, may you have better luck that I. I am a lady-in-waiting... waiting to inquire about my x-rays. Wish me luck.

- Gitana

Monday, March 5, 2007

One man's trash...

For anyone who has discovered treasures in the trash or thought it was a shame how people could just throw out perfectly good and useful items, here's a site you may want to check into. is a not-for-profit site with a unique goal: helping individuals with possessions they no longer want or need find others who have a need for what they have. Essentially, a Freecycler (a member of the Freecycle community) with goods to give posts a description of their items on the site. Members who need those items contact the poster directly through the site's message generator. Similarly, individuals who have need of something post a request to the site and are contacted by members who have that item to offer.

The goal of this undertaking is to reduce landfills by recycling goods for free (hence the name Freecycle) The concept is simple, elegant and, here's the best part, it's all FREE! It is a requirement of membership in Freecycle that no money, goods or services be exchanged. Everything given must be done so with no strings attached.

I have been a member of FreeCycle for about a month. In that time, I have been able to find new homes for my children's old jigsaw puzzles, juvenile wallpaper trim, old computer equipment and cut glass chandelier chimneys. I have received 2 Palm Pilots, a cordless computer keyboard and mouse, a computer game, white laminate shelving complete with hardware, a printer, a load of scrapbooking supplies, a boxed set of yoga video tapes, 9 magazine holders, a box of quilting magazines, a computer power station. All for free, all fully functional. Most were used, some with very minor dings but others were still brand new in their packages. I found that people tended to give accurate descriptions of the goods and my experience included no misrepresentations.

The New York FreeCycle groups are divided by boroughs. The group you are eligible to join is based on your address. The other members of your group are relatively local to you, making it easier to arrange for pickup of goods. This is an unbelievable resource that is available to anyone with a computer. The list of things you can find is incredible and I urge you to take a peek at the site: Happy FreeCycling!